Sunday, October 08, 2006


the sunday roast

"as i was standing in line at starbucks, waiting for my order, i was struck by the new advertising campaign the coffee purveyors had going. particularly, how much it paralleled the wine world's terminology and philosophy."

sigh. on the one hand, i'm glad these wine people are finally catching onto coffee; on the other, i remain surprised that they know so little of the history of coffee and its sensory evaluation.

after all jean lenoir offers both the nez du vin and the nez du cafe. ted lingle has been formalizing the scaa flavor wheel for about three decades now, building on bickford's 19th cent. invention of cupping. i remain surprised at the surprise of wine people who don't seem to know that professional cuppers have existed at the exchange since the early 20th cent.

and of course the visionary dr. illy and his pals at asic have been researching coffee's compounds like mad.

and this brings us to today's flavor moment, rooted in peter g's counterculture kenya aa gaaki from friday. at issue specifically is the unusual coffee aroma, beef.

long-time readers are certainly by now used to seeing both the scaa flavor wheel and the taint wheel referenced here. the above nez du cafe's also well-known.

another concept i've discussed a lot is the distinction between "romantic" and "clean" cupping. with all this in mind, let's talk about peter's coffee.

peter's kenya aa gaaki's roasted to a what i'd call a city+ or full-city-; not a speck, not a pinprick of oil, nothing nada zilch on the oil. by now it's 4 days old.

i brewed this bean in the cafetiére at my usual 55g fresh ground coffee per liter of water.

the coffee's a classic quality kenya with a piquant taste, that is, a liveliness hovering on the border of sweet and winey. as peter notes, there's a fruitiness detectable in the fragrance of the dry grounds, mixed in among the flowers -- think of a bowl of jasmine petals and blackberries!

when the water hits the dry grounds -- that's when this coffee gets interesting. that my friends, is when the cooked beef emerges.

in the lez nez du cafe kit, cooked beef's a recognized descriptor; it's example 31 in the set. there, lenoir tells it's caused by sulphur compounds that develop naturally in the coffee, and that you should expect to find it in "the best kenyans."

lenoir ascribes it to 2-methyl-3-furanethiol, on which flament comments here, noting its "strong meat-like flavor."

please remember, dear readers, that coffee naturally contains some 1100 flavor compounds! don't be surprised at its wonders!

to my scent memory, lenoir's example in vial 31 smells just like a knorr beef bouillon cube. let me state immediately that i detest these things, frankly.

to my mind, they are all bad, and i can't say that i personally like this aroma in my coffee. but, there's no denying that it's there, unh-unh.

here's where the romantic cupper and the clean cupper have a coffee lover's discussion. some exotic aromas and flavors have come to characterize certain coffee origins: the earth in the sumatra, the clay in the yemen.

the romantic cupper writes prose poems to these traits because they are traditionally associated with the history of these coffees and their romantic preparations. "of course the yemen tastes like clay," the romantic cupper sings, "the humble yemeni farmers have been growing coffee for 600 years.

they lovingly spread this coffee out to dry on the clay roofs of their traditional dwellings, where they carefully rake and turn each bean with tender devotion before enclosing them in home-made rough bags sewn by their wives, delicately packing them in twiggy hand-woven village baskets, loading them on their placid family donkeys, and making the pilgrimage down the dry, cracking mountains over the faintest dirt trails to the colorful and exotic oriental bazaar."

the clean cupper however's not so charmed: a pinch of clay might be acceptable, a mere passing whiff, as a memory of yemen, but when the coffee smells like a potter's shed in the cup, they're screaming "defect!" and don't want anything to do with bean.

again, you see this in sumatra, where the romantic's "hint of forest floor" may be the clean cupper's "groundy."

and here we have the same thing with peter's kenya. you are either going to be enchanted with this aroma of cooked beef as "traditionally kenyan," or you are going to start back from the brewing vessel and exclaim "is this coffee hidy!"

i myself am somewhere in the middle. i think hidy's more an unpleasant leathery quality, whereas peter's coffee frankly smells like the sunday roast in the oven.

so i'm torn as to whether this is heavy enough to be considered a taint; i think i might in this instance call it merely a wild, exotic flavor.

when i brewed this coffee yesterday, i didn't get any of the beef in the cup with the method i was using. so i don't think it's excessive -- but it might be a tad unusual for some people. it depends how adventurous your mindset is, how willing you are to open yourself to coffee's infinite flavor possibilities.

naturally my opinion is: go for it! you only live once. . .you may decided you don't like it, but at least you've had the experience!

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posted by fortune | 9:04 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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